Israeli Café Culture

Israeli Café Culture

Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention during my last trip to Israel, in 2000, but it seems to me that coffee and cafés have a newly major role in the street life of Israelis. So here are a few observations, taken mostly while sitting and surveying the scene in the Baka, Emek Refaim and German Colony neighborhoods of Jerusalem. And even a bit further.

The very first place I had coffee in Jerusalem was the Bagel Bite, at 74 Derech Beit Lechem, about two blocks from my little studio apartment in Baka. I enjoyed the coffee as accompanied by one of their wonderful Danish pastries (“dā’nish”, in Hebrew).

Also very close to my little studio apartment was the delightful Café Kalo, 33 Derech Beit Lechem, with its friendly sidewalk sitting area. The casual outdoor assortment of tables, chairs and wicker seats were a temptation, but it was also pleasant to sit indoors. I soon learned to order “café hafuch” (upside down coffee) when I wanted a cappuccino, caffé latté or any espresso drink. How did the name come about? Possibly it derives from the pre-espresso days in Israel, when a little instant coffee was poured into milk; all the hafuch coffees are the reversal of this. I spent a good deal of time at this lovely place, with its pleasant wait staff and varied clientele. A good number of them appeared to be Israelis schmoozing with visiting relatives.

But I also wandered off my little street, across the railroad tracks (literally) to Derech Emek Refaim. This street, which is now home to lots of little shops and eateries, was a great temptation.

I had a wonderful lunch at Caffit, 35 Emek Refaim Street, more of a restaurant than a coffee bar, and a good place to watch people. Caffit is located about halfway down Emek Refaim, and has been described as the trendiest place in the neighborhood. I found it a really pleasant place to stop, with good food and coffee.

Also on Emek Refaim is a branch of the Aroma Coffee Bar chain. Here, you order at the counter, give your name and pay, then take a seat and wait. They call your name and you pick up your order. Aroma is probably the biggest chain in Israel, and they have some branches “hutz la’aretz” (outside of Israel), particularly in North America. (For some reason, Starbucks was a dismal failure in Israel. My cousins tell me they found the coffee too weak and too bitter, but who knows.)

One of my favorites became the cold drink known as “eiskaffé, which is more or less a coffee slushie. It’s sold in various places, but my favorite was a bakery on Emek Refaim, whose name eludes me (and Google). There were just a few outdoor tables there, so one could buy a piece of mandelbrot (aka a biscotto) and an eiskaffé then sit outside in the sun on the busy street.

I even got to try coffee outside of Jerusalem. I have cousins in Ra’anana (a small city that is essentially a Tel Aviv suburb) and visited with them for a couple of days. My cousin took me to his office in a new office park in the Ramat HaChayal neighborhood of northern Tel Aviv. This neighborhood, originally developed for injured veterans, is now home to many high-tech businesses, and we had coffee in a branch of the international Coffee Bean chain. This was a nice place too, and the only time I got to sample a halvah Danish. (Yes, you read that right.) Look what I’ve been missing!

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